THE BLOG
12/06/2006 01:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Triple Cross : the Book the Ex-Feds Don't Want You to Read

On Sunday, less than two weeks after publication, Triple Cross, my third investigative book on the failure of the FBI and Justice Department on the road to 9/11 hit #4 on amazon.com's terrorism best seller's list. But the book's initial success is causing a pair of ex-Feds to see red. In my Friday blog for The Huffington Post, I noted how Andrew C. McCarthy, a former Asst. U.S. Attorney in the Southern District, had drafted a review of the book for The N.Y. Post.

Since the book had questioned McCarthy for failing to stop al Qaeda's master spy Ali Mohamed, a "review" by him in any paper, particularly Rupert Murdoch's flagship U.S. tabloid would have been the equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld critiquing State of Denial. Ultimately, The Post killed the piece, but one prominent reviewer who had raved about Triple Cross e-mailed me to report that McCarthy had called him to denigrate the book.

Any author has to expect that kind of reaction from a controversial book. But now
Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst who worked counterterrorism at State is papering the internet with attacks, not just on my findings, but my credibility as a reporter. Johnson was also criticized in Triple Cross. He's an interested party who felt stung by the book and normally I wouldn't respond to him. But on Wednesday, respected journalist Amy Goodman quoted one of his erroneous allegations during her interview with me on Democracy Now!. This blog is intended to set the record straight.

JOHNSON'S FIRST ATTACK: BEFORE HE'D READ THE BOOK

Word of Triple Cross broke Friday November 17th on page-one of the Huffington Post with a news story and sidebar blog.

The ink in cyberspace wasn't even dry when Johnson fired off with a critique on his site accusing me of jumping "to conclusions not supported by actual evidence." Written on Nov. 18th, three days before he could have read the book, Johnson's screed was republished on TPMcafe.

"...Peter does a slick job of intermixing facts and conjecture to create the impression that he has a special truth," he opined.

Johnson was quickly rebutted, point by point, by Mike Kasper who runs Able Danger Blog: He titled his piece "Read the damn book first Larry."

Kasper is one of a number of critics who have endorsed my findings along with mainstream columnists like Thane Burnett of the Toronto Sun.

In his response, Kasper noted a classic Johnson device: accusing me of writing something that I didn't write and then trying to shoot me down for it. This is what Larry had to say in his first attack on the book:

Peter Lance, Crisscrossed
by Larry C. Johnson Nov. 18th, 2006.

JOHNSON: Consider the following from Peter: "Using evidence from the SDNY court cases, interviews with current and retired Special Agents and documents from the FBI's own files, I prove in Triple Cross that Patrick Fitzgerald and Squad I-49 in the NYO could have prevented (the African Embassy) bombings - not just by getting the truth from FBI informant Ali Mohamed, but by connecting him to Wadih El-Hage, one of the Kenya cell leaders."

JOHNSON Here's the truth--there is not one document, piece of court evidence, or retired FBI agent that supports the claim that in the year prior to the bombing of the US Embassies in East Africa Ali Mohamed was recorded stating his intent to attack those embassies. Not one.

That was the fallacious allegation that Amy Goodman fell for on Democracynow. But as Mike Kasper pointed out: "Lance never said Mohamed stated his intention to attack the embassies beforehand! He said the FBI should have been able to stop the bombings by connecting him to Wadih El Hage."

El-Hage was one of the principal Embassy bombing cell members with links back to the original WTC bombing cell which Ali Mohamed had trained. In fact, Mohamed set up El-Hage to run the Nairobi cell after the death of its former leader Abu Ubaidah. Mohamed even stayed in El-Hage's house in Kenya and the FBI's elite squad I-49 had a wire tap on the place from 1996 on. That's what I reported in Triple Cross, but Johnson invented lines from the book that never existed, then tried to rebut them.

In the last two weeks since the book's arrival, Johnson has escalated his campaign -- even going so far as to accuse me of lying about the number of Emmy's I've won: a charge that goes to the heart of my reputation for accuracy.

More Truthiness on Peter Lance
by Larry C. Johnson Nov. 21st, 2006

JOHNSON: If Peter Lance is exaggerating about his Emmy awards, what else is he embellishing? According to Peter's bio posted at www.peterlance.com: "Peter Lance is a five-time Emmy-winning investigative reporter now working as a screenwriter and novelist. With a Masters Degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law, Lance spent the first 15 years of his career as a print reporter and network correspondent."

Nope. Peter has not won five Emmy's. That folks, is another typical exaggeration of Peter Lance. He has had five nominations but only two wins. The last nomination was 24 years ago when he was working with network news. All of his Emmy's came when he worked with ABC's 20/20. Here's what I received today from Mike Grigaliunas at the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in New York City.

Larry then offered a pdf download from the National Academy of a record listing two of my Emmys and the five nominations earned for my work on 20/20.

But Johnson was quickly rebuked by Cheryl Daly of NATAS in this e-mail:

From: CHERYL DALY
Sent: Wednesday, November 22, 2006 10:59 AM
To: lcjohnso@ix.netcom.com
Subject: Peter Lance's Emmy Awards

Mr. Johnson:

The information my co-worker Mike Grigaliunas gave you is only a partial listing of Peter Lance's Emmy Awards, and you have used this information in an incorrect way.

Peter Lance does indeed have 5 Emmy Awards. He was awarded 3 National Emmy Awards -- the 2 our database indicated, plus an additional 1 for Community and Public Service for a campaign on WABC. The database lists just the sponsor of the campaign WABC; but the Emmy Award goes to the producer, who in this case was Peter Lance. In addition, Peter Lance has won two Emmys from the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which I have verified with them.

We would appreciate your correcting this information on your website immediately.

After that, Larry published a "Clarification" that he used for another attack:

Peter Lance Clarification
by Larry C Johnson WEDNESDAY, 22 NOVEMBER 2006

JOHNSON: Yesterday I called the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences asking them to confirm that Peter Lance in fact, had five Emmy Awards. My initial skepticism was prompted because of some glaring factual errors and misrepresentations about me that appear in Peter's latest book.


The "glaring factual errors" Larry alleges go to my reporting on how in the summer of 2001 he became a laughing stock for getting it wrong on al Qaeda.

Consider this excerpt from Triple Cross:

Larry C. Johnson, the former State Department counterterrorism official under Bush 41 and Clinton (was) infamous for his July 2001 New York Times quote minimizing the importance of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda: "To listen to some of the news reports a year or two ago, you would think bin Laden was running a top Fortune 500 multinational company," said Johnson, "people everywhere, links everywhere."

That quote was in a New York Times piece dated May 31st, 2001; As noted in Triple Cross, Johnson then compounded that mistaken assessment five weeks later with a Times Op-Ed piece entitled "The Declining Terrorist Threat." This is what he said in the piece that ran on July 10th, the day the FBI got the notorious "The Phoenix Memo" warning that flight schools should be monitored for Islamic radicals:

Judging from news reports and the portrayal of villains in our popular entertain-ment, Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism. None of these beliefs are based in fact.

MISSING THE INTELLIGENCE SIGNALS BEFORE 9/11

Johnson's assessment was so categorically wrong that he's been eviscerated on websites for years. He was cited on Jumbo Joke, a site billed as featuring "bizarre-but-true news items from the world press."

On September 21st, 2001 after the Twin Towers were in ruins, Timothy Noah took Johnson to task on the Slate.com: "(Not Exactly a) Whopper of the Week: Larry C. Johnson."

As recently as June 5th, 2006, Byron York skewered Larry in his NR/Digital column for National Review Online:

Larry Johnson became known, at least in the eyes of some of his former colleagues, as the author of perhaps the most embarrassing op-ed ever published. "The worst," says one such colleague. "On an issue of national interest, has there ever been a worse prognostication in the history of man?" Probably not. Yet Johnson's career as a commentator did not just continue after September 11 -- it thrived.

Why does Johnson receive such attention? Compared with some of the CIA's other critics, like Bob Baer, who spent 21 years as a case officer, or Milt Bearden, who spent 30 years at the agency and left as a high-ranking official, Johnson's credentials are a little thin. He worked there as an analyst, not as a top manager or a covert agent, for all of four years, 1985 to 1989, which means it has been 17 years since he was employed by the CIA. And his specialty wasn't the Middle East or terrorism; instead, he dealt with issues related to Central America, a subject he's rarely called on to comment about today... So why the demand for Johnson's opinions?

He's willing to say very bold things," says a former intelligence official. "If you say things that are balanced and reasoned and calm, they're less likely to ask you back than if you throw some bombs.

Now he's back at it again, like some angry Energizer Bunny. In his third attack on Triple Cross posted Saturday, he had the audacity to cite my five Emmys:

Peter Lance's Flawed Triple Cross
by Larry C Johnson SATURDAY December 2nd, 2006

JOHNSON: I believe that Peter Lance's new book, Triple Cross, is a flawed and inaccurate piece of investigative reporting. Not the kind of work one would expect from a five time Emmy award winning reporter...


One of the central discoveries in my first investigative book, 1000 Years for Revenge, was that Ramzi Yousef, the original WTC bomber was the architect of the 9/11 plot, set in motion in The Philippines as early as 1994 - a plot merely executed by his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) after Yousef's capture.

In his latest rant, already circulated on three other major blog sites, Larry goes so far as to cite "documentary evidence" in his "possession" from the Philippines National Police (PNP) purporting to prove that Yousef's cohort, Abdul Hakim Murad, a pilot trained in four U.S. flight schools, merely intended to fly a small plane into the CIA vs. a 767. That position allows ex-Feds like Larry who were supposed to be protecting America, to argue that such a modest scenario could never have served as a warning of the full blown "planes as missiles" attack fulfilled on 9/11.

The documents Johnson cites were all referenced in my first book 1000 Years for Revenge. I'd obtained them after I'd gone to the Philippines where I'd interviewed Col. Rodolfo B. Mendoza, the senior PNP official who had interrogated Murad. The documents Johnson cited focus on the early days of Murad's interrogation in January, 1995. But, In fact, as Col. Mendoza later told me, after initially lying to him up front, Murad ultimately gave him the entire plot:

PROOF OF THE 9/11 PLOT REVEALED IN 1995 After Murad had been tortured for a few days beginning on January 6th, 1995, Mendoza took over. Using a combination of food deprivation and guile, he began to peel back the layers, getting this commercial pilot and al Qaeda terrorist to confess. This is an excerpt from our interview conducted on March 19th, 2002: COL. MENDOZA: (Murad's) bragging. He started discussing the plan to hijack commercial airliners... He told me airliners not airplanes... He discussed with me... even without me mentioning that there is really a formal training (going on) of suicide bombers...and he discussed to me the names and flight training schools they went to. He said that there were other middle eastern pilots training. LANCE: And then later or before he said that there was a specific plan to hijack airliners and fly them into targets in the U.S.? COL. MENDOZA: Yeah. Targets in the United States... CIA Headquarters in Langley Virginia. He told me about the possibility of hitting Pentagon. He told me also about a different unidentified nuclear facilities. LANCE: In your interrogation on the third or fourth day in February of 1995 at Camp Crame, Abdul Hakim Murad actually revealed to you, a plan to hijack commercial airliners in the United States and fly them into the CIA, The Pentagon, and an unnamed nuclear facility and he said that he himself was willing to do this? COL. MENDOZA: Yes. And I would like to express that aside from the plan he provided me information about the development or execution of the plan when he told me that there were pilot trainings going on (at the same time) in the U.S. Later, via Presidential Secretary Bobby Tiglao, I learned that Murad had also told the PNP that his target list included: the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Trans America Tower in San Francisco and... the World Trade Center, which Murad had personally boasted to Mendoza that he had chosen as a target. Earlier in Triple Cross I revealed the presence of a chilling note that Murad's oldest friend, Ramzi Yousef had dictated to Nidal Ayyad one of the original 1993 WTC cell members trained by Ali Mohamed. It was found on Ayyad's hard drive by the FBI in March of '93 within weeks of the original bombing: "Our calculations were not very accurate this time. However we promise you that next time it will be very precise and the Trade Center will be one of our targets" For Triple Cross I went further and interviewed Rafael Garcia III, a Filipino computer expert who was tasked by the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to clone the hard drive on Yousef's Toshiba laptop seized the night of January 6th from the bomb factory used by Murad, Yousef and KSM. After a fire there, Yousef and Khalid Shaikh had fled to Islamabad, but Murad was captured that night; later to be grilled by Col. Mendoza. In two face to face interviews with me in 2005, Garcia confirmed this account of the hard drive's contents that he'd written earlier:

We found a... document (on the hard drive) that discussed a (plot to) crash ...planes into selected targets in the United States. These included the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia; the World Trade Center in New York; the Sears Tower in Chicago; the Transamerica Tower in San Francisco; and the White House in Washington, DC. Murad himself was to fly the plane that would be crashed into the CIA headquarters.

EVIDENCE OF THE "9/11" PLOT TURNED OVER TO THE FBI

Garcia III told me that he was certain the full contents of the Toshiba laptop including the "planes operations" as it was later called, was turned over to the FBI's LEGAT (legal attaché) in Manila and I proved in Triple Cross that prosecutors at the SDNY got that intelligence as early as 1995.

But in his latest attack on Triple Cross - just as he'd done with the fallacious Emmy story, Larry C. Johnson only cited documents from the first few weeks of Col. Mendoza's interrogation of Murad - thus skewing the record to make it appear that my revelation of the full blown 9/11 plot was wrong.

Why has he gone to such lengths to try and discredit the book and my work? Because Triple Cross is a devastating indictment of the failure of officials like Johnson to appreciate the al Qaeda threat and keep us safe.

WHY DOES ANY OF THIS MATTER?

As I proved in Triple Cross, the FBI has failed to reform. After wasting $170 million dollars on the so-called Virtual Case File, computer overhaul, they still lack the ability to do the kind of data mining on al Qaeda that most Americans could do with a laptop, Google and a database program like Filemaker Pro.

In testimony before Congress in the summer of 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller actually admitted that it would be 2009 before such a system is in place. Worse, this past spring the ADIC of the FBI's New York Office admitted that many Special Agents didn't even have e-mail because of cost considerations.

The evidence presented in my book goes beyond the documentation of gross negligence by officials in the FBI, State and Justice on the road to 9/11. It reveals an affirmative effort to rewrite history and minimize the real al Qaeda threat. The motive? To relieve a series of counterterrorism officials from accountability for their failure to prevent the September 11th attacks.

Ex-Feds like Larry C. Johnson and Andrew C. McCarthy don't want you to read Triple Cross because for years they've been given a pass and this 670 page book sets the record straight in a way the 9/11 Commission Report failed to do. It's backed up my more than 50 pages of end note citations and 30+ pages of heretofore classified, secret or confidential Justice Department documents.

Five plus years after the biggest mass murder in U.S. history there remains a thicket of conflicting stories and inter-agency finger pointing that has produced little or no real intelligence reform. The record that I've uncovered exposes more than two decades of incompetence, stovepiping, negligence and obstruction. The only way we'll ever be safe against the next al Qaeda attack is to rip back the layers of denial and get at the truth. As Justice Cardozo once wrote, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."